A stoneware crock filled with perfectly patinaed wooden utensils, splatterware bowls upon bowls looking ready to topple, layers of woven rugs as high as the coffee table they’re snuggling up next to—a scene from your favorite thrift store or the gleaming big-box decor brand around the corner? These days, it’s hard to tell. And it might be tempting to step into the expertly dimmed light of a chain store hawking vintage-inspired wares, but consider looking for the same objects at that funny, cramped shop you pass on the weekends. Yes, the one with chairs stacked in the window. You might just find the trove of industrial lighting—or etched glassware, or perfectly antiqued mirrors—you were looking for at a fraction of the price. Not to mention, the authenticity and construction of these well-loved pieces will keep them in your kitchen and home for far longer than the reproductions. They’ll outlive the trends.
Here are eight home accents that expert thrifters say you’ll be better off sourcing from a dusty antique store (or an estate sale) than the “vintage-inspired” rack at your nearest big-box store:
Functional, Well-Built Furniture
Kamissa Mort, Manager of Sales & Merchandising for Antiques & Vintage at Rejuvenation, believes in the enduring appeal of well-loved, well-built furniture—the wooden chairs and tables that have seen a few years (like, a hundred). “You know they’re good because they’ve already done half the work,” she says. When shopping for vintage solid wood furniture, she suggests checking two things: the joinery (are there dovetail or finger joints? You’re good to go) and screws and hardware (anything with a flat-head screw means it predates the ’30s; anything with a Phillips screw is almost guaranteed to be mid–20th century or later).
No need to invest in brand-new flutes or crystal rocks glasses to imbue a sense of timelessness in your home. From etched glasssware to elaborate swizzle sticks (and shakers on shakers on shakers), there’s such a variety of vintage barware out there. “Barware had such specific styles during various time periods,” explains Abby Wilkinson, the director of product development and design at Fish’s Eddy. “1950s barware is vastly different from the styles of the ’60s or ’70s.” And you can just as easily find really classic shapes to add to your collection: Champagne coupes, ice buckets, and jiggers.
The pans at a vintage dealer or antique store will often have a little grime and grit hanging on, but no matter. Cast iron lasts a lifetime; you just have to take proper care of it—which sometimes means bringing it back from the dead. “This is something that can always be reseasoned and used again,” said Jennifer Dobrowolski, the buyer at New York’s Fishs Eddy, a store that stocks an eclectic mix of new and vintage designs.
Handwoven, well-made rugs last a lifetime, says Andrea Stanford, design and style editor at C Magazine and the brand director for Everything but the House (a very cool online estate-sale service). That is to say: Never buy a new rug that’s made to look like an old rug, if you can help it. “There are simple ways to clean them, particularly if they’ve been in homes where they weren’t overexposed to sunlight or other elements,” she says. “You can just get such a better price on an old rug than when you’re buying one brand-new.”
Dobrowolski adds that vintage textiles—tablecloths, runners, napkins, et cetera—are other great choices to pick up at an antique or vintage store. “Once you wash—maybe dry-clean to be safe—they’re ready to use!” she says.
A mirror is another home object that benefits from some age when used decoratively. “It’s so much more beautiful to have a mirror that has just lived a little bit,” Stanford points out; and a vintage or antique mirror will often be more affordable than a newly framed one. It will also look less sterile; the cloudiness that an older mirror has lends some romance to a living room or over a fireplace. “If you’re going to buy a brand-new mirror,” she adds, “hopefully it’s for the bathroom.”
Pottery and Ceramics
Vintage pottery often has miles more charm and history than newly purchased stuff—and you’ll find in more cases than not that it’ll be more affordable and lend character to your meals. Additionally, Dobrowolski says that other types of vintage ceramics—mugs, cups, gravy boats, creamers, and crocks—can be given new life as things like planters, cotton-ball bathroom storage, business card holders, pencil cups, or just a spot to drop your loose change.
Searching for new lighting fixtures can be daunting, but looking for them at an antiques store or estate sale can unlock a world of options that you hadn’t thought of before. “You can find great sconces, great overhead pieces—and, you know, typically, you’re just rewiring it,” Stanford says. “It’s such a great way to add a distinct touch to a room.” And again, she points out that vintage or antique lighting will also have a lower price tag than its brand-new counterparts.